Why do we need microscopic sensors?
Most of humanity spends most of their lives in cars, homes, or work environments with high levels of air pollutants, which are harmful to their health. A way of monitoring levels of pollutants could be a game-changer within the health and well-being context. Researchers from Trinity and Amber, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research, have devised a way of fabricating tiny, color-changing gas sensors using new materials and DIW(Direct ink writing).
The sensors are observable in real-time and detect solvent vapors in the air.
These sensors can be used in connected, cost-effective devices in homes and installed in wearable devices used to observe human health.
The research was led by Larisa Florea, Assistant Professor in Trinity’s School of Chemistry and Principal Investigator at AMBER, partnering with Louise Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices.
Dr Radislav Potyrailo from GE Research in Niskayuna New York, was part of the research throughout.
Dr Colm Delaney, Lead author of the journal article of Trinity School of Chemistry and Research Fellow at Amber, said,
“Over three centuries, Robert Hooke first investigated the vibrant colours on a peacock’s wings.
It was only Centuries later Researchers discovered that the effervescent colouration was induced by the interaction of light with tiny objects on the feather, Objects which were a couple of millionths of a metre in size.
The researchers used this naturally occurring design to make exciting materials.
It is achieved through direct laser-writing (DLW). allowing the focus of a laser into a very small spot and then use it to make tiny structures in three dimensions from the soft polymers developed in the lab.
Furthermore, a Professor of Photonics at Trinity, Louise Bradley added ” The research carried out between the two groups focused on modelling, design and fabrication of these tiny structures in stimuli-responsive materials.”
Jin Qian, a PhD student working with Bradley has developed designs and predicted the response of different structures that responds to light, Heat and humidity to create systems that can truly recreate properties only found in nature.
The tiny responsive arrays,
Which are smaller than a freckle, can be used to determine a large amount of the chemistry in their environment.
Tiny coloured sensors: Is there a use case?
While regular modern sensors have increased a connected living market, there still lies a gap between low-cost, flexible chemical sensing platforms that can be used.
Photonic sensors have made considerable inroads into yielding accurate and robust alternatives,
- low power consumption
- , low operating costs and high sensitivity.
This is an area that Dr Potyrailo and GE Research have worked on commercializing for many years.
Professor Larisa Florea underscores the significant portion of our lives spent within the confined spaces of homes, cars, and work environments. Intriguingly, she points out that the concentration of pollutants within these enclosed spaces can be alarmingly higher, ranging from 5 to 100 times more than the concentrations found in the outdoor environment. This revelation is particularly disconcerting in light of the World Health Organization’s estimation that a staggering 90% of the global population resides in areas where air quality falls below the recommended standards.
The implications of such high pollutant concentrations are profound and far-reaching, directly impacting our health and well-being. It’s a stark reminder that the air we breathe in our everyday environments is not as pristine as we might assume. Currently, modern sensors primarily focus on detecting common pollutants like smoke and carbon dioxide (CO2). However, Professor Florea advocates for a paradigm shift in sensor development, urging the inclusion of additional parameters such as humidity, oxygen levels, and ammonia in real-time monitoring.
Expanding the capabilities of sensors to encompass a broader spectrum of environmental factors could have a transformative impact on creating a comprehensive domestic monitoring ecosystem. By incorporating these additional elements into sensor technology, we gain a nuanced understanding of our living spaces’ environmental dynamics. Real-time monitoring of humidity levels, carbon dioxide concentration, oxygen levels, and even ammonia can provide a more holistic perspective on indoor air quality.
The envisioned domestic monitoring ecosystem holds the promise of becoming an integral component of future architecture and automation. As we strive for more sustainable and health-conscious living environments, the ability to monitor and optimize these critical environmental factors becomes paramount. Such a system not only ensures the well-being of occupants but also contributes to the broader narrative of creating smarter, healthier, and more responsive living spaces.
In essence, Professor Larisa Florea’s insights advocate for a proactive approach to indoor air quality management. By expanding the scope of sensor technologies to encompass a comprehensive range of parameters, we pave the way for a future where our living environments actively contribute to our health and overall quality of life. This shift towards a more holistic and real-time monitoring system aligns with the evolving landscape of architecture and automation, marking a crucial step toward healthier and more sustainable living.
Source: Trinity college Dublin